Ravensthorpe re-opening on miner’s agenda

Toby HusseyAlbany Advertiser
The Ravensthorpe mine.
Camera IconThe Ravensthorpe mine. Credit: Kalgoorlie Miner

Great Southern local government leaders hope a Ravensthorpe nickel mine could reopen, after an on-site meeting with business representatives last year.

Leaders from the City of Albany and the Shires of Ravensthorpe and Esperance met officials of the mine owner, Canadian company First Quantum Minerals, on October 30 last year to address employment at the site if it were to re-open.

Described by one attendee as an “informal discussion”, it was held to address where workers would be sourced from if the mine did reopen.

Albany Advertiser has been told First Quantum said it would cost about $20 million to re-start production at the mine, with the fourth quarter this year identified as a possible date if nickel prices improve.

That could be a sign First Quantum is gearing up for a return to production in Ravensthorpe, tapping back into the market as rising worldwide demand for products including batteries spurs increased nickel prices.

First Quantum ceased operations in Ravensthorpe in 2011, after nickel prices plummeted from a high of $28,000 to $12,000 a tonne.

It is understood at the time the company said it would consider reopening the mine if nickel prices improved enough.

Since then, prices for the metal soared to $21,000 a tonne in mid-2018, but dropped to about $14,000 a tonne in December.

The mine, built by BHP Billiton in 2008 for $2.1 billion, has closed twice since its creation — under the original owner and later First Quantum.

The latter company picked up the site for a steal — $340 million — in December 2009.

When it closed in 2017, about 450 staff and contractors lost jobs, a shock Ravensthorpe Shire president Keith Dunlop said was still being felt in the region.

“Quite a few houses were empty after that, especially in Hopetoun,” he said. “Everything suffers, it was not a good time.”

While First Quantum is tight-lipped on its plans for the site, in its meeting with Great Southern local governments it stated a preference for a drive-in, drive-out employment system, which could benefit workers across the Great Southern.

The meeting gave cause for hope to each of the local government leaders in attendance, with Esperance Shire president Victoria Brown saying it had offered the chance to discuss how each region “could get a slice of the action”.

A First Quantum representative would not speculate on the mine’s future.

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